Finding A Swimming Hole in Puglia South Of Otranto
Staying in Lecce for a week, we needed to head out if we wanted to find water and a swimming hole in Puglia! We had visited the town of Otranto to see the Cathedral but left drooling at the beautiful crystal blue water we had found. There was even a sandy beach, which we had been unable to find when we went beach hunting further north up the coast. Maybe we would have to go back south to the great Santa Marie di Leuca sand beaches. But I was not giving up yet. I had 4 stops marked on my map to try for a swimming hole in Puglia!
Cape Otranto – The Most Easterly Point in Italy
The first stop in our search for a swimming hole in Puglia was at Cape Otranto to step foot on the most easterly point of Italy. Had we not programmed it into both the GPS and my offline maps, we would have missed it. Hidden behind a modern navigation tower, marked as a military zone, the lighthouse was not marked at all until you came up a little road and found the museum sign.
We walked through the fields as an act of faith until we got close enough to the water and down below we could see the lighthouse. With lava like rocks all the way down to the water and signs posted saying the swimming was not safe, this would not be our watering hole for a swim.
Swimming In The Grotto at Porto Badisco
We stayed on the shore road, ignoring unclear signs that might have said “road closed”. We had no trouble with the road so we kept going until we hit Porto Badisco. As we were entering the village we saw signs for the grotto but passed by only to soon see the little town and the swimming hole for us. We navigated through town and then backtracked (a common water approach we had seen before) to get us down on the low road.
The water was crystal clear. This could certainly serve as our swimming hole in Puglia. There was a small sand beach and the rest of the entry points were down lava like rocks. The locals seemed ok to scramble in and out over the rocks but this girl was walking in on the sand beach. Undressing like locals behind our towels we donned our reef shoes and headed in. I had still not developed tough beach feet!
I had been a bit fooled by how many people were in the water, thinking it must be really warm. But 3 steps in I was no longer fooled. While the top 6 inches was warm, the temperature quickly dropped. Of course, David had to dive in and start dolphin kicking away, leaving me in the wake of his splash. By the time he was out to the middle of the bay, I figured I better get it over with and I dove forward. David beckoned me to the part of the bay over a sandy bottom, assuring me that it was warmer there. Either it was true or my core had chilled, but by now the water just felt refreshing. We paddled along and cooled down, laughing when several other obvious tourists came in from the beach but never made it past mid-thigh.
This swimming hole was a great find, although we were sure it would not be quite so quiet in the middle of summer. The downside of off season though was that the restaurant by the beach was not open. Hunger would win out over being a lizard in the sun for too long. Time to keep moving south.
The Thermal Spas of Santa Cesarea Terme
The next spot we had marked for a swimming hole in Puglia was Santa Cesarea Terme. While the town was known as a resort spot for its thermal baths, first on the agenda was lunch. We stopped as soon as we saw something that looked open. Bypassing the bar on the street level for a better view upstairs might have been our mistake. With no pizza for lunch, it was hard for me to find something light and bland to eat since I was still not totally over being sick the previous day. David had no trouble ordering a seafood salad and some local pasta while I stuck with prosciutto and melon. Let’s just say that most of the meal was sent back uneaten. There was no question by the waiter and no reduction in the bill for probably the worst meal we had eaten since landing in Italy. At a restaurant next to the City Hall (Municipale) in a resort town, who would have thought this?
Leaving the restaurant, we were momentary entranced with the very mosque like buildings on the shore. The big colourful one turned out to be a private villa as did the other two more sedate ones. These may have been bustling thermal spa retreats in season but in mid-October everything was shut tight.
I called uncle and cancelled our final trek to the little village of Castro. The town was know for the Zinzulusa caves. Given how little attractions remained open in offseason, we were not sure what there would be to see if we got there. I was crusty with salt from our dip in the swimming hole and really didn’t want to push my first day after being sick. It would be back to rest and picnic in the room before we packed to leave Lecce and head to our next stop in Matera.
We were so happy to have found our swimming hole in the crystal blue water. While it did not offer us the sandy beaches we had found at the southern point in Puglia, the water was refreshing and we could laze on the rocks with the other locals. We would certainly try other points along this coast on a return trip to Lecce.
What is your favourite swimming hole in Puglia?